If you're sick of Apple's walled garden but have yet to make the jump from the iPhone to an Android handset, here's what to expect, how to adjust and how to cope with certain app withdrawal.
Let me preface all of this by saying that for many — not all — the switch from iPhone to Android will feel like being covered in Band-Aids and ripping each one off over the course of a few weeks. This is not because there's anything particularly wrong with either mobile operating system, but because they have different paradigms. Android and iPhone feel different, look different and accomplish things in sometimes very different manners. Nonetheless, they're both mobile operating systems with touch interfaces, so it's hard to avoid comparing the two and finding similarities between them. If you decide to ditch your iPhone and give Android a try, be prepared for a little culture shock.
While some things are worse and others just different, there are quite a few things Android does best, and you'll want to be sure to check them out.
Voice capabilities are also new and exciting. The iPhone's Voice Control exists, but it's limited to music, apps and a few other areas of the phone. Android gives you surprisingly accurate voice search that lets you enter text into any field with your voice, make calls to businesses just by saying their names or find pretty much anything on the web.
Freedom of Choice
On the iPhone you have the App Store; on Android you have the Android Marketplace. One of the reasons you may want to switch to Android is the choice of carrier and hardware it provides, along with its much more open app market. This has its disadvantages, which we'll talk about it later, but the upside is the freedom developers have to bring you all kinds of apps. There are apps that look exactly like their iPhone counterparts, but also apps that dig a lot deeper into the OS, letting you customise all sorts of uses and notifications, and have a seductive level of control over what you can do.
On Android, the web is here. On your iPhone, you have to bring it to you. If you're an eager Google service user and you supply your Android phone with your Google credentials, you'll quickly find your phone is filled with all sorts of information. You'll have email, calendar items, contacts, bookmarks and more. I found out I had calendars and contacts in Google I didn't know existed. You can also connect to Facebook and Twitter to pull even more information into your phone. When Android detects contact information that should belong to an existing contact, it'll suggest you link it. While the way it displays everything isn't so great, and you don't always have easy handles on what you don't want to see, information is in constant sync with your web apps.
If you were asked to pick just one complaint about the iPhone's interface, there's a good chance it's about how it handles notifications. Nobody loves frequent pop-ups, and it's almost bizarre that Apple has implemented such an archaic notification system. Android handles notifications passively, allowing you to check when you want and be otherwise uninterrupted — but, if you'd like, set specific notifications to ring, vibrate or flash your trackball light for attention. If you're new to Android, you might not know where to find these updates. Just drag the down on the status bar up top and you'll pull down your notifications drawer.
It's not all good news when you switch. Android has its issues too. Fortunately you can work around most of them.
Apple insists their walled garden of an App Store is necessary to keep everyone safe — and, infamously, offer freedom from porn — and in some ways they may be right. The Android Marketplace has begun to see a spyware problem. How big of an issue it is may be up for debate, but it exists. When you download an Android app, you'll need to consider its source and note the warnings about the sorts of data it can access. Be prudent and think before you install.
It is worth noting that Apple's App Store isn't bereft of spyware; it just hasn't grown to the projected proportions of the Android Marketplace.
Blame the Manufacturer
Carriers and hardware manufacturers can sometimes add to the Android experience, but in most cases you'll wish you could get rid of those Telstra apps (for example). HTC likes to add their Sense layer on top of the standard Android experience, as a means of beautification and betterment, but you might find it more cumbersome than helpful. Of course, you may be the minority that loves mandatory carrier apps and added interface layers. If not, you can relegate carrier apps to the app drawer by simply dragging them from the home screen to the trash (and then further banishing them through the "Manage Applications" section of Settings/Applications). Better still, if you don't like the home screen, change it.
Low Battery Warning
Certain Android phones (that'd be you, Evo) have embarrassing battery life. While the iPhone's battery isn't endless (even though it's more battery than phone nowadays), due to Android's true multitasking, the battery life falls a little short. You may be able to eke out a little more longevity by utilising apps like TasKiller (see #6) to quit processes you don't want running, or the buggy-but-brilliant JuiceDefender app to cut back on data and screen usage. There's a debate over TasKiller's efficacy, and you don't want to abuse its power in fear of killing off an important background task you actually want running, but I've found it helps me keep the phone on a little bit longer. If you don't want to take such extreme measures, just make sure you actually quit apps when you're done with them. Unlike the iPhone, you need to be a little more active in your app management.
The good and bad aside, you'll most likely be uncomfortable until you hit the other side of the learning curve. Switching from one OS to another isn't supposed to be, so stay patient and stick with it.
There's something about (multi)touch on Android that isn't quite as elegant as the iPhone. The animations aren't as smooth, touch doesn't always respond the same way and things just don't feel right. In some cases you'll find yourself adjusting to the little differences, such as sliding down to unlock your phone rather than left to right (as you're used to with the iPhone). In other cases you may find things just don't feel the way you hoped, like when scrolling and you hit a hard stop at the bottom of a page (whereas an iPhone will bounce a little to let you know you've reached the end). How hard it is to adjust to the touch, the feel of cotton Android will depend on you, but remember this: It's different. It's not an iPhone, so don't expect one.
When you buy a new keyboard for a computer, the displacement of a single button can become very frustrating. Once you memorise key locations it's hard to switch, because they're embedded in your muscle memory. Depending on the Android phone you choose, you'll either be adjusting to a physical keyboard with its own layout, or you'll be presented with a familiar but notably different touch keyboard. The number/symbol selector may be on the right side (it varies), your spacebar is a bit smaller, and you have a microphone button that will let you speak what you want to type instead of typing it. It's slightly different and you'll slip up, but you'll adjust with practice. But once you get the hang of it you'll discover keyboard shortcuts that'll help you type faster. Here are a few shortcuts, but note that they may or may not work based on your hardware:
- Alt + Spacebar lets you insert special characters
- Alt + Delete will delete an entire line
- Pressing Shift twice will initiate caps lock.
- Menu + X will cut all text, Menu + C will copy it, Menu + V will paste clipboard text and Menu + A will select everything in the current field.
- Alt + Q inserts a tab space.
The upside to Android? If you want to try a keyboard that's vastly different, like the gesture-based Swype, you have that option as well.
Consistency of the interface is another piece of culture shock. Maybe staring at a grid of iPhone apps felt like staring into your probable future as a member of the Apple occult, but at least you knew what you were getting. On Android, you have several pages with different items and you may find yourself swiping around blindly. Just like you would with a grid of apps with no real immediate notification of what's what, you'll get used to the differing pages of your home screen. If not, you can always replace it with a nifty app like SlideScreen (something the iPhone could really use).
On the iPhone you've come to expect some of your app settings in, well, the global Settings app. In Android, you'll always find them in the actual application. To get to any app's settings, you'll need to go into the app, hit your phone's Menu button, and then hit "Settings". This applies not only to apps your downloads from the Android Marketplace, but settings for your text messages, email accounts and other features you may think of as part of the OS.
Real (or Unreal) Buttons
Speaking of the menu button, you'll find that navigating an Android phone requires the use of those four buttons below the screen. This can be very off-putting at first. You might wonder what purpose is served by offering dedicated buttons which, on some handsets, aren't really even buttons at all. As you get used to them and memorise where they are, you'll adapt, but initially you may want to pull your hair out wondering why everything isn't part of the touch screen. Simply put, iPhone apps have been designed for some time now as single environments with multiple screens to page through, while Android apps function a bit more like traditional desktop apps — a single screen, with buttons and options, made to be switched into and out of regularly.
Out of Sync
What about syncing? One of the benefits of Android is that, for the most part, you won't need to sync. You can copy media from your computer over USB if you need to. But do you miss the painful tethered syncing of iTunes? Then get doubleTwist (here's our first look), which can be described pretty accurately as iTunes for Android. If you don't like Android's media player, doubleTwist offers an alternative. If you're longing for iTunes after the switch, a couple of downloads should have you covered.
Storage on an iPhone is a sealed deal (much like the battery), but on Android it's expandable. On one hand this is great because you essentially have no limits, but it also means purchasing an additional MicroSDHC card (or two) in order to fit everything you want. Generally you only start with 8GB. Whether you go out and grab a 32GB card or a few smaller ones, you may have to start considering your storage a bit differently.
Have you switched from iPhone to Android? What was painful, pleasant or something in-between?